Technology: it's wonderful but has certainly complicated the world of human interaction in unforeseen ways. Do you remember the episode of Sex and the City when Berger breaks up with Carrie on a Post-It note? That's dated. Today, the episode would most likely show him leaving the message in a text, on Facebook, or possibly on Twitter or Instagram. Modern technology has expanded the ways in which we're able to interact with one another, so the new rules about what's normal, what's acceptable, and what it all means are a bit murky.
For example, I know a woman who carefully combed through her Facebook account, deleting all signs of past lovers when she started dating her current fiance. He insisted that she change her status, delete photos, and even posts mentioning anyone else. She did it, but asked me if I thought that was "normal." Apparently she didn't think it was.
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Recently, a woman in my therapy practice described her hurt feelings and anger when she discovered her husband flirting with a woman at work through text messages. Not "sexting", but definitely flirting. He didn't understand why that was a big deal to her and even stated that it was "innocent." She, however, couldn't let it go and was pretty upset. In the past, he might have flirted with this co-worker in person or over the phone, and the wife would most likely have never known. But today, it's all there in writing under the "messages" tab in your phone.
I also know couples who regularly check each other's search engine histories to see where the other has been on the internet. I've even heard of a man who had purchased a device that reported his wife's keystrokes in case she tried to clear her cache.
Is technology turning us into paranoid lovers? How much information is just too much?
Where technology is concerned, it's important for couples to address their concerns head-on:
1. Take the time to talk about and draw appropriate boundaries that make both of you feel safe and comfortable in the relationship. Flirting online or on a cell phone probably doesn't mean anyone wants to leave the marriage, but it's never good for one party to feel threatened by the activities of the other.
2. It's a good idea to discuss how to "affair-proof" a marriage. If either of you are starting to feel attracted to someone else, it's a good time to turn your attention in towards one another, not away. Promise to do this, so you don't feel insecure if you notice your partner is texting or emailing with frequency.
3. Monitor your work relationships. We all seem to be spending a lot of our time at work these days, and sometimes intimacies develop with co-workers. Affairs can happen when flirtations escalate, so it would be wise to talk about whatever feelings come up.
4. If you're feeling threatened by your partner's behavior, approach with curiosity — not anger — if you want to increase the closeness between you. If his texting is indeed innocent, as he says, then he shouldn't have any trouble letting go of it to allow you to feel safe. If he does, it would be wise for you to appreciate that gesture and to move forward.
5. Re-romanticize your relationship. Consciously plan for and enact the romantic gestures that you loved in the beginning of your time together. Spend time together — without your technological devices. Share deep intimacies, flirt, make love.
6. Seek counseling if a flirtation or social media addiction becomes consuming. Statistics show that couples wait an average of six years before seeking help once they identify a problem. In any event, you'll want to sharpen your communication skills and focus on deepening your connection with one another. Problems are best solved when nipped in the bud.
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